Sec. i] THE RUINED FORT ON MAZAR-TAGH 1291
But in the absence of any direct date record, special attention may be called to such incidental statements as those of services held for the benefit of a Chinese army engaged on a difficult expedition ; of fruits, etc., purchased for secretaries of the escort ', attached to military headquarters, or of presents sent for the funeral of a high Chinese commander.75 All such references prove clearly that these monastic accounts belong to a period when China still exercised effective military control in these regions, and hence are not likely to date much later than the first half of the eighth century.
This brings us finally to the question of the character and history of the desert post to the prolonged occupation of which we owe those extensive deposits of refuse and their varied documentary contents. It is obvious that the solitary Mazar-tagh hill, by its height and commanding position, offers exceptional advantages for a watch-station to guard the route by the river and to control traffic passing along it, and that these advantages must have been appreciated from an early period. They were bound to suggest the site as a natural frontier station for Khotan on the only practicable route leading northward. Under favourable atmospheric conditions, fire and smoke signals, lit on the top of the isolated ridge rising relatively high above the flat desert plain, would be visible over very great distances. It may hence be safely assumed that the position was utilized in this way, at least temporarily, long before the ruined fort was built. The outlying watch-tower on the hill crest, with its very solid construction of distinctly ancient appearance, may well date back to such an earlier occupation.
On the other hand, it is certain that the last occupants of the fort were Tibetans, and that the masses of rubbish found below it were deposited during the prolonged stay of a Tibetan garrison. All this points to the conclusion that the Mazar-tagh station had assumed increased importance during the troubled times of the latter half of the eighth century, when the Tibetans first overran the oases in the south and west of the Tarim Basin and finally completed their conquest by taking Pei-t ing (A. D. 790) and Kucha. We have seen above that the fort of Miran, placed in an exactly corresponding position to command an important route leading eastwards, must have held its Tibetan garrison during the same period." The close agreement in the nature and contents of the Tibetan records found at both forts, which Dr. Francke's preliminary analysis proves, is thus wholly accounted for. The indications which their fuller study may be expected to yield hereafter as to the character of the Tibetan domination in the Tarim Basin, the military and administrative methods for maintaining it, etc., will possess all the more historical interest on account of the fact that so great a distance, well over 700 miles by road,. separates the two fortified posts guarding routes through the desert.
OBJECTS EXCAVATED AT RUINED FORT OF MAZAR-TAGH
Early watch-station guarding route.
Tibetan occupation of Mazâr-lâgh and Mirân.
M. Tagh. i. oox. Six frs. of firm woollen (?) braid, pinkish buff. Width i", gr. length 5r"
M. Tagh. i. 002. Disc of white stone, opaque, pierced longitudinally. Diam. â", thickness â".
M. Tagh. i. oo3. Thin piece of bronze foil cut in form of Icaf. 2 8" x I " x c.i ô e. Pl. LI.
M. Tagh. i. 004. Clay spinning-whorl. Flat disc, pierced. Diam. Iiu", thickness u".
M. Tagh. i, oos. Iron pin, lozenge-shaped in section. Head an elongated four-sided point on round neck. Length 2r", diam. A" (head) to T". Pl. LI.
M. Tagh. i. oo6. Reed pen, cut with nib as M. I. xlii. 003. Charred, and broken. Length 2".
M. Tagh. i. 007. Wooden die, rotighly cubical. Numbers painted in ink circles, and arranged asin M. 1. iii. 004. Cf. M. Tagh. a. 003 ; Iv. oox 72. rx" sq.
M. Tagh. i, oo8. Oval piece of brown leather with dressed surface. Semicircular slit parallel to one side. I" x*".
M. Tagh. I. oog. Fr. of glass from rim of vessel, bluish-green, translucent. Edge thickened on each side, and rounded. Gr. M. 2', thickness iir" to if".
15 Cf. Chavannes, Documents, No. 969, II. 2, 3,
16 See above, pp. 474 sqq.